Death Rattle – The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Oasis and the travesty of British Alternative Rock in the 90s
The Stone Roses’ first great song was ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and, ironically enough, it was a perfect slice of jangly guitar-pop. The production was definitely a little muscular by indie standards but a wistful yet sincere Byrds-esque tale of love between two girls? Only in 1987 and only in the UK. In ’88 came ‘Elephant Stone’ and already things had changed. The guitar-playing was jangly but effortlessly fluid while the drums dominated the mix, giving the song a much harder edge. The sound was edging more towards classic rock and away from contemporary indie.
Momentum continued gathering and things exploded in 1989, the year that the entire Stone Roses legend is built on. First up was new single ‘Made Of Stone’ and it had ‘classic rock’ stamped all over it. With a chord progression nabbed from ‘Runaway’ (Del Shannon) or ‘China Girl’ (Iggy Pop/David Bowie). depending on who you asked, The Stone Roses shed any connection with 1980’s indie music and made a song that could have been written and recorded in 1974. The self-titled album that followed was more of the same. Nothing indicated that the band had heard any music made after 1977. It was a glorious but limited reflection of what guitar music was capable of. The restless experimentation of the post-punk years was not only ignored but actively disdained. The ambition that The Stone Roses spoke of involved making an album equal to, or better than, The Beatles, the Stones or Led Zeppelin, as if nothing had happened since them worth measuring themselves against.
It ushered in an era of classicism, of blokes making ‘proper’ music, of bands giving their fans something to ‘believe’ in. It reeked of religiosity and bloated rock‘n’roll conservatism. For some unknown reason the music of The Stone Roses soared despite its limitations but, in the hands of their progeny, it would cripple British music in the 90s. But hold! 1989 was not yet over and The Stone Roses had one more gift to give. November saw the release of ‘Fools Gold’, a song that not only put The Stone Roses in the Top 10 but also helped birth that other corrupted beast of 90s music: indie-dance. True to form, ‘Fool’s Gold’ was magnificent. An unforgettable bass line held together this sample-laden funk workout as the boys from Manchester took a leap into modernity.
Like all else they touched in ’89 it would inspire a multitude of imitators, almost all of them floundering where The Stone Roses flourished. Troubled by lawsuits and lack of songs, Manchester’s newest heroes were about to disappear into the wilderness, but they left behind a void that less talented individuals would try unsuccessfully to fill.